NATICK, MA – The registered nurses of MetroWest Medical Center’s Leonard Morse Hospital campus conducted an informational picket in front of the Natick-based facility today to call for desperately needed improvements in patient care conditions at this for-profit community hospital.
“The primary reason you are in a hospital is because your condition is so serious you require around-the-clock attention by one of these nurses, who are specially trained to monitor your condition from minute-to-minute and take immediate action to save your life,” said Lynn Shaw, co-chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association local bargaining unit for the 189 nurses who work at MetroWest/Leonard Morse Hospital. “Right now the hospital is failing to provide appropriate staffing levels, which hamper our ability to be at our patients’ bedside when they need us most. The signs on this picket line tell the story, we need safe staffing and we need it now.”
According to official staffing plans posted on the Mass. Hospital Association’s “Patient Care Link” web site, MetroWest Medical Center has the worst RN staffing levels in the region, and among the worst staffing in the state. It is not uncommon for MetroWest nurses to have six to eight patients at a time, which according to the latest medical research, places those patients at a 14 – 30 percent increased risk for injury or death.
“When nurses have too many patients to care for at one time, complications are more likely and here at MetroWest, we have been warning management about these conditions for months, yet they refuse to address this growing patient safety crisis,” said Vicki Emerson, RN, the other co-chair of the bargaining unit.
In fact, back in May at a special meeting with management called by the nurses to discuss the staffing crisis, dozens of nurses from every unit and department of the hospital presented riveting testimony about how poor staffing conditions on their units are compromising their ability to deliver optimal, and sometimes even safe, patient care.
Here is what one nurse had to say about the conditions: “The present situation with insufficient staffing and support is forcing us to be in a climate of unsafe nursing practice. We, as employees, are overburdened, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Morale is plummeting because the charge to provide safe patient care has become an impossible mission and our voices have fallen on deaf ears.”
Nurses also pay a personal price for working under these conditions. The majority of nurses report that they rarely, if ever, get a chance to take a break or to leave the unit for lunch, forcing them to care for too many patients while exhausted and depleted, which poses a risk to their health while also increasing the likelihood that they could make an error in patient care. One nurse reported it has been months since she worked a shift where she had even a 15 minute break.
The owner of our hospital, Vanguard Health Care, is a multi-billion dollar, for-profit corporation that also owns St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, where Vanguard has negotiated a contract with those nurses that includes safe RN-to-patient staffing levels to ensure high quality patient care.
The nurses at MetroWest Medical Center are in negotiations for a new union contract and are simply asking Vanguard to provide its patients in the MetroWest region with the same safe standard of care they are providing patients in Worcester.
The other sticking point in the negotiations is the hospital’s demand that those nurses who work overtime no longer receive overtime pay for the first hour they work beyond their scheduled shift.
“This is clearly a case of Vanguard adding insult to injury. Because they don’t provide enough staff, nurses are rarely able to finish their extensive documentation and their patients’ care by the end of the shift, forcing them to work longer while already exhausted,” Shaw explained. “Now they want to penalize us financially for putting us in that situation. They should be ashamed of themselves. This is no way to treat your patients or your nurses.”
The nurses and management began negotiations for a new union contract in November of 2011, with 15 negotiation sessions held to date. The nurses’ contract officially expired on Dec, 31, 2011.